A final reflection from Stephen Sandford…

I am allowed only two pages to respond to all the comments made in this debate on the Too Many People Too Few Livestock (TMPTFL) thesis that I have put forward. My response is, therefore, necessarily brief, eclectic and curt.

The minimum livestock/person ratio
Some contributors to this debate (Devereux/Scoones, Catley, Swift) have criticised my use of figures (numbers) on the grounds that their apparent precision is not justified in the light of the heterogeneity of situations or the quality of the data. But the general TMPTFL thesis is not dependent on, for example, a particular universal value of the minimum livestock/person ratio. Leg 2 of the thesis would be equally effective in supporting the general thrust of the thesis if it were worded. “Many pastoralists in the Horn of Africa, do not currently have enough livestock, given the general pattern of their livelihoods in pastoralism, cropping and other economic activities, to continue, in the long term, in a way of life substantially dependent on range-based livestock production.” Leg 3 would then have to be rephrased in terms of “the maximum feed-limited total size of herd being less than the number of livestock needed to provide enough to enable these pastoralists in the long term to continue in a way of life substantially dependent on range-based livestock production”.

If a person who is averse to any precise value of the ratio would agree to this reformulation of Legs 2 and 3 they could still adhere to the TMPTFL thesis. A precise value of the ratio is, however, useful as an indicator of particular area-based or ethnic groups of pastoralists, or of wealth or gender-based sections within these groups, where the imbalance between people and livestock has reached such a level that a major focus of action should be to reduce the number of people dependent on range-based livestock production.

I have already drawn a distinction between two classes of pastoralists, “pure” (i.e. ones not significantly dependent on cropping) and “agro”-pastoralists and suggested a different value of the minimum ratio for each. One could, as information and analysis improves, draw further distinctions between sub-classes of each of these classes, e.g. by gender of household head or by type of diversification, with a different minimum livestock/person ratio attached to each sub-class, enabling more accurate indication of population pressure.

What the TMPTFL general thesis maintains is that, whatever the sophistication of sub-classification that one uses, a substantial proportion of the pastoralists and pastoral areas of the Horn of Africa will be found to be already in the category where the major focus should be on the reduction of the range-based population. Diversification

The most frequent (Little, Swift, Cullis, Abdi Abdullahi as well as Devereux/Scoones) and fundamental disagreement between me and other contributors to this debate has been about the potential for diversification of economic activity to offset (and more than offset) the loss of income and welfare arising from the declining ability of range-based livestock production to meet the needs of the population wanting to lead a astral life. This disagreement really covers three distinct but related issues. For each I specify the issue and set out my views on it.

(i) Is diversification a practical solution everywhere? While diversification into trading or employment is possible in many pastoral communities, in others it is not. In North East Turkana, for example, “There are no alternative livelihoods. Education and skill levels are very low for employment” (Levine and Crosskey, 2006, p. 19). People live off their livestock, barter-exchange, wild food, and, in the case of the poor (45-65% % of the total), about 50% of their income is made up of aid (mainly cash for work) and social support.
(ii) Is diversification into activities outside pastoral areas feasible for all? While both sides agree that diversification into economic activities outside the pastoral area is a good thing, and may supply “remittances” to parts of households still residing in pastoral areas, access to taking part in these activities, which often offer regular salaries/wages, is much easier for the wealthy than for the poor (Homewood et al. 2006, p.22).
(iii) How much do the poor gain from diversification? The advantaged position of the wealthy in income diversification applies not only to out-of-pastoral-area diversification but to within-area also. The poorest sections of the population find it difficult to be involved in activities except those depending on local natural resources, and primarily on local demand (firewood, basket- and mat-making, charcoal-making). As Devereux (2006, p. 78) notes of Somali Region in Ethiopia: “Selling charcoal and firewood are, in fact, the most common livelihood activities recorded in rural communities, after livestock rearing and crop farming (Table 7.3). However, these ways of generating income should not be seen as chosen or preferred, but instead as “last resort” options adopted by people who are poor and desperate for any income at all. The work is arduous and time-consuming and the returns are tiny”.  Devereux reports that these activities yield household incomes on average less than 25% of the average for all activities carried out by pastoralists, and that, indeed, they yield lower incomes than “begging”.

Similarly Radeny (2006, p. 9) reports, of a pastoral/agro-pastoral area right next door to Nairobi: “With respect to income diversification, poorer households (i.e. in the lowest income quintile) actually have more income sources than the wealthier ones, although off-land earnings are much lower and from less reliable sources (e.g. petty trade). Figure 2 [not reproduced here] shows that households in the higher income quintiles have a larger proportion of their incomes coming from wages and business, for example, while those in the lower ones depend more on petty trading and other informal sector activities to help them diversify their incomes”.

The PARIMA group of researchers has shown how difficult it is for a household whose herd size has fallen below a critical size (e.g. see Lybbert et al. 2004, p. 769) ever to rebuild it again. Instead herd size continues to decrease and sedentarisation, to enable the households better to diversify their livelihoods, is almost inevitable. John McPeak and Peter Little (2004, p. 102) have concluded; “The findings in this chapter corroborate earlier work on pastoralism that suggests sedentarisation attracts both poor and relatively wealthy herders (Barth, 1964; Little, 1985). The latter group appears ‘blessed’ in the kinds of opportunities they can pursue and the degree of support that they can provide the pastoral sector and their mobile relatives and family members. In contrast, the poor appear ‘cursed’ in the kinds of un-remunerative activities they engage in and the extent to which they are caught in a vicious cycle of low incomes, low mobility, and high food insecurity”. Possibly the most detailed location-specific fieldwork yet undertaken on diversification activities among pastoralists and agro-pastoralists is that by the Anthropology Department of University College, London. Some results are reported in Homewood et al. 2006. They basically confirm that the wealthy do much better out of diversification than the poor, who in the process become increasingly vulnerable and undergo a downward spiral of progressive loss of access to land, livestock and labour central to pastoral and agropastoral livelihoods.

I think that the evidence presented on these specific issues should make us very cautious about assuming that spontaneous diversification will, by itself, solve the problem set by increasing population pressure and technological stagnation in pastoralism. It is the poorer pastoralists who are being forced out of pastoralism, but it is they who are, at present, least able to diversify or find new economic activities in which to specialize. Consequently, without prospect of better alternatives, they cling to the forlorn hope that they can once again become independent pastoralists. Their individually diminutive herds nevertheless together constitute a significant proportion of the total herd who compete for scarce livestock feed with the herds of more viable pastoralists but it is a proportion whose driving force is accumulation rather than production and whose fate is often forced sale in poor condition or death by starvation rather providing a real economic return. We need to find ways of enabling those squeezed out of pastoralism to pursue less risky and more rewarding livelihoods. Education and language skills are key issues in this (Tomoya Matsumota et al. 2006; Homewood et al. 2006 (p.23). However in the case of some pastoral groups there are additional constraints to their securing satisfactory livelihood opportunities outside the pastoral areas. Cultural factors, a lack of personal contacts in urban areas to facilitate the transition, and lack of capital may also be serious issues. We need to be better informed about these constraints and about ways to tackle them. We will probably need also substantial specific investments to create employment and livelihoods, e.g. in irrigation, in cases where it seems unlikely that ex-pastoralists will be able to secure adequate opportunities in the general expansion of the national economies.

  1. While some contributors to the debate query whether there is a crisis in Horn of Africa pastoralism at all, most accept that there is and I do not, therefore, present further evidence for its existence.
  2. The original paper by me which started this debate, as published on the Future Agricultures website, referred to eleven “legs”, but then apparently listed only 10. This was due to an error in which I mistakenly merged two Legs (3 and 4) with a consequent renumbering of the remainder. In this “reply” the numbering of the Legs follows that of the paper as it appeared on the website.
  3. It is pertinent to note here that in the last year or so an export market for charcoal from this region has been developed and charcoal burning and selling is no longer the preserve of the poor.